Archive for the 'Parent-to-Parent' Category

Suicide awareness is everyone’s responsibility

sad older boy hiding head

I struggled starting this. Really struggled. Suicide is a tough subject and sadly, it’s one we need to talk about.

In Michigan, we’ve seen a 31 to 37 percent increase in suicides between 1999 and 2016, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, suicide is on the rise across the United States, not just Michigan. It’s in the top 10 causes of death for Americans and is one of the three causes that are on the rise.

Those statistics are a warning signal to all of us: suicide is not someone else’s problem.

The CDC stats showed 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide in 2016. “Age 10” startled me. My kids are 6. Looks like I’ll be having a talk earlier than I thought.

But what to say?

Age-appropriate honesty has been my policy. I don’t plan to whisper or suggest that suicide is something to be ashamed of. It’s the end stages of a disease of the brain. Brains get sick and sometimes, medicine and doctors can’t help.

As a parent, it’s always good to know the signs. Here are a few I got from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:

  • talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • talking about being a burden to others
  • increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
  • sleeping too little or too much
  • withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • extreme mood swings

There are also risk factors such as mental illness, physical illness, drug/alcohol abuse, trauma, job or financial loss, cultural and religious beliefs, or exposure to suicide.

Having the talk about suicide with your child is along the lines of any other difficult conversation—sex, drugs, bullying, guns, etc. Try and be as honest as you can and remember to listen to what they say in return. Then hug your kids. Let them know they matter and their emotions are legitimate.

The good news is, there is hope. Suicide can be prevented you have to be aware of the signs and don’t be afraid to ask the uncomfortable question.

Like I said, I struggled with this blog. I don’t like thinking about the aloneness that someone thinking about suicide feels. We’re all supposed to be out there looking after each other. So, say something kind to someone today. Or wave to a neighbor. You never know when it’ll make a difference.

­– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

First-day-of-school traditions

first day of school photos

Cropped image. AngryJulieMonday, Flickr. CC license.

Today is the first day back to school for many kids around metro Detroit. Lots of families have special “first day of school” traditions that they look forward to each year. We asked some of the Parenting Program staff and volunteers how they celebrate this special day.

  • My son is just now starting kindergarten, but when he was in preschool, we did an annual picture outlining his favorite food, what he wants to be when he grows up, etc. to see the differences between the years. We plan to continue doing that. We might find some new traditions as well! – Stephanie Babcock
  • We take our son’s picture in front of the tree we planted the spring after he was born. He holds a “First Day of (insert grade here)” sign with the date and wears a special outfit with new shoes for the first day, too. We end the day with ice cream (along with half the other kids from our school since it’s conveniently right across the street)! – Becky Bibbs
  • We’ve only done it twice so far, but we go out for ice cream after the first day. – Rebecca Calappi
  • Our back-to-school tradition is that each of our kids gets to pick a place to go out to dinner (or dessert) in the last few days before school starts. Now that our two oldest are in college, they’ve traded dinner out for their choice of homemade meal before they must go without Mom’s cooking for awhile. Since I’m a bit of a soft touch, that usually turns into a week of “kids’ choice” dinners before they head off to their universities. – Nicole Capozello
  • The only real tradition I have is forcing my kids to take smiley pictures on the front lawn before school until they want to scream with vexation. – Wendy MacKenzie
  • We always do pictures on the front porch with our kids holding up fingers representing the grade for that year. Our kids always get a special outfit purchased for that day. – Kelly Ryan
  • We always take a picture with our dog on our front porch. This year my son is starting kindergarten, so I would like to buy him an adult-sized shirt that says “Class of 2031” on the front and have him wear it each first day of school. I saw that some people hand-print their child’s hands in paint on the back for each grade, so we might do that too.  On Friday, we will go out for ice cream on Friday to celebrate the first week. – Emily Swan

What are your family’s traditions for the first day of school? We’d love to see how you celebrate!

Picture “perfect”

boy and girl on first day of school

Pretty much the last thing my kids want to do when heading off to school is pose for pictures. Much to their chagrin, they are lassoed by their parents and wrangled into poses on the front lawn. The sun, peeking through the last of the summer green, illuminates the various scowls and glares that my kids present to the camera. After many attempts, as the minutes before the first bell tick away, we finally manage to drag a half-smile out of them. And that’s what makes my family’s First Day of School pictures so memorable: the sheer effort it takes to produce a satisfactory result.

Hopefully, for most families, taking pictures on this momentous day is a less-trying venture.

Preserving the day for posterity is important. If a cheerful and smiling face is your priority, you may want to consider taking your pictures after school, when time constraints are less of a factor and tensions aren’t running as high. Every year I insist upon the before-school-sullen-kids photos, which are now more of a tradition than anything else. But I have discovered that the pictures taken after school are often more pleasant, both to shoot and to look at later. Everyone tends to be more relaxed, which leads to better cooperation and more genuine smiles.

If you want to truly capture a snapshot of “The First Day of School” though, avoid posing the kids at all. Have your phone in your hand (and really, where else would it be?) and grab some shots at different points throughout the day. Candid shots are amazing for preserving memories; you can instruct your subject to “look happy!” but as we know, a truly happy moment is something that can’t be produced on command. It must be captured. Sneakily. And really, those shots where someone is being a stinker or otherwise not performing up to par, those are the ones people like to see on Facebook and Instagram.

The first day of school, for many, offers a wide range of emotions: excitement, trepidation, frustration, panic, relief. (My children could be described as “grumpy,” largely due to my photo efforts.) Which moments will be preserved in your photos?

– Wendy MacKenzie is a mother of four, Parenting Program volunteer, and a champion at annoying everyone on the first day of school.

4 back-to-school tips

boy with textbook

I’m not sure where the summer went, but when I see school supplies at Target, I know our lazy days are coming to an end.

For me, this means getting ready: the kids and me.

Rise and shine!

Last year was kindergarten, so I’m hoping first grade won’t be so much of a shock. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to start getting the kids out of bed in the morning earlier and tucking them in before the sun goes down.

It’s a huge help for us to get back into the wake-up routine before the first day of school. That first week or two, getting them up is easy because they’re excited, it’s new and fun. But that wears off fast and it’s a nice buffer to not have to pull them out of bed every day.


I get my kids as involved as possible in making or choosing their lunch. My daughter loves hot lunch at school and has very few days where she wants to bring a lunch. If your school has a lunch app, I highly recommend downloading it. They love asking what’s for first choice, second choice and all the sides that being served the next day.

When it comes to packing lunches, last year, I burst out the gate. I made sandwiches that looked like snails and drew turkeys on the baggies if they had a turkey sandwich. By the end of the year, the choices were PB&J with grape or strawberry jam. I was over it. So, prep lunches as much as possible the night before. That way, you just have to throw stuff in their lunchboxes before running to the bus.

Getting there

Y’all, seriously. That drop-off line is as bad as they say. Plan for it. You will be sitting there for 10 minutes while kids pile out of cars safely. You will be honked at by someone late for a meeting or someone who didn’t get their coffee. Bad words occasionally get exchanged. Don’t fall down that rabbit hole and please don’t lash out at the people directing traffic.

Park far away from the door and walk your kid up. Or park on a side street near your school and walk. We walk to school every day. When it rains, we all have boots and umbrellas. In the cold, snow pants and scarves. It really helps relieve some of the morning stress, plus, my daily step count skyrockets.

Papers are coming

Prepare yourself for the tidal wave of papers coming home in the first week. Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, Drama Club, fundraisers, class rosters, community events—you name it. And, logically, the more kids you have the more papers you get at home.

That first week or two, get organized. Have a spot for schedules, forms you need to sign and return, and forms with dates you need to put on your calendar.

And my last bit of advice, you can’t fully prepare for everything, so don’t try. Just have the kids lay out their clothes the night before, pack their snacks in their backpacks, have their water bottles ready to fill and turn the coffee pot on. Only 180 days to go!

– Rebecca Calappi is a freelance writer, adoptive mom to twins and past Parenting Program participant. Surprisingly, she’s mostly sane.

Getting Gray ready for kindergarten!

little boy standing in front of school bus

Gray was excited to do a test run on the school bus.

This is the moment. My first-born child is starting kindergarten. As much as my maternal instincts want to protest this major milestone, part of me rejoices in the independence and new life phase that my son is about to embark on. He’s attended preschool twice a week, so he is familiar with structure regarding lunch time, clean-up, etc. But since beginning kindergarten will be such a big transition, we made several extra steps to get him ready for his start to school. Already we:

  • Visited the elementary school at Kindergarten Round-Up to meet the principal, two possible teachers, and tour the school (including the library, gym, classrooms, cafeteria).
  • Got to ride a school bus and learned basic rules such as remained seated while driving, where kindergarten students sit on the bus, etc.
  • Downloaded the app that school uses for electronic communications to stay connected over the summer
  • Met Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) members at Open House. These are the volunteers who will host meetings and different fundraising event throughout the school year.
  • Did a monthly calendar over the summer to check off daily and start a countdown until the first day of school
  • Included him in back-to-school shopping for his lunch box, backpack, and supplies he will be using when in school
  • Phased in an earlier bedtime (one month before we started moving bedtime, two weeks before we will move bedtime up again) to ensure an adequate night’s sleep for full day of learning.
  • Discussed how a typical week at school will look like (five full days which means no more days with Nana) and how we will incorporate fun things outside of school days. This was big for my little guy because he thrives on consistency.

As this is our first year, we are looking to learn more about how to effectively transition into the school year from summer fun and eager to watch my child grow into this new chapter.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of two.

You don’t have to hit the ball to score a home run

little league boy at bat

Cropped image, Morguefile.

On Monday, April 16,  our son was at his first little league practice of the season when he got hit in the jaw by a metal bat. The only thing I remember from the phone call with his coach was that he had been hit, there was a lot of blood, and an ambulance was on its way. It was a scary moment, to say the least.

Our son was lucky. Had he not been walking towards his baseball bag, the airborne bat would have hit him square in the face or forehead. Instead, the bat hit him on the side of the face, breaking his jaw. Anders had surgery to have a plate put in his jaw to secure the fracture and his mouth was “wired” shut for one month.

When Anders attended the third game of the season, only two weeks after the accident, he stayed put in the dugout. He couldn’t play obviously, but we encouraged him to show up. Embracing the “fall off your bike, get back on” metaphor, our son would sit with his team in the dug out until he could play again.

This small step served as a significant catalyst to Anders’ recovery. Obviously we didn’t want him to be scared about playing again. If he was, who could blame him? I was a wreck the first few times he showed up, imagining a metal bat hitting him in the face. But I pretended to be calm, modeling for Anders a sense of belief in him and expectation that he could move through this space. Life had thrown him his first real curve ball and we were not going to let him see us waver in our confidence in his resilience.

After the accident, Anders’ coach called me several times while we were in the hospital and visited with cards and gifts from the team the day he got home. Additionally, the teammate who accidentally swung the bat that hit Anders appeared at our house that same day. Empathy and support were extended to our son in so many beautiful ways those first few days home from the hospital. And in return, Anders showed up at the field each game, as if to say, “See, I’m here and I’m OK.” Acceptance for what happened as an accident and a level of forgiveness on his behalf was demonstrated every time he showed up at that field.

Anders was a champion throughout this ordeal. He demonstrated the kind of resiliency, courage, adaptability and forgiveness we aim to teach our kids every day.

His accident reminds us as parents that traumatic events, and even everyday obstacles for that matter, give us opportunities to teach resilience and let our children know that we have faith in their ability to persevere. As soon as Anders got the arch bar and the screws removed from his mouth exactly one month later, he was back on the baseball field, playing with his team. And even though he only made contact with the ball a few times that season, in our minds, it felt like a homerun every time.

– Andree Palmgren, licensed professional counselor, has a private practice in Westport, CT and is mom to kids ages 15, 13, 10 and 6.

Having fun with baby’s first summer

big brother holding little brother on bench

Gray and Finley on Finn’s first road trip

There is a country song with a line that goes, “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” I always love that line because the first time you do something is so underrated in my eyes. I feel like the last time you do something is always remembered but what about the first? Sure big firsts are remembered such as first words, first day of school, first kiss, and so on, but what about other firsts? Things like the first silly word (my 5-year-old boy calls salad dressing “salad sauce” and it will forever remain salad sauce in our house), your first challenge at school, your first bad kiss, etc.?

little boy playing with sandFirsts are a big deal! As a mom, I try to teach my kids that the firsts are just as important as the lasts. I have two boys (ages 5 years and 16 months). For my little guy’s “first summer” last year I made sure to document and photograph all of his firsts that the summer energy brings. Here are a few of my favorites along with a few notes:

  • First fourth of July (Note: Finley did not care for fireworks)
  • First time experiencing a glow stick
    • Mommy was quick to know Finn wanted to use it as a chew toy
  • First haircut
    • Bribed with snacks to try and stay still.
  • First road trip
    • Colorado at 6 months old.
  • First time feeling sand
  • First time strawberry picking.
    • No help picking the fruit but a big help in eating it.
  • First time camping.
    • Camping “up north” as a rite of passage
  • First time hiking.
    • Sure, he was carried on everyone’s back but still a first nonetheless.
  • First time in a bounce house (How fun is this first?)
  • First time swimming
    • Finley was naked in a bucket but we’re still counting it as first swimming.
  • First time playing at a park
    • Favorite park feature: swings
  • First time at the zoo
    • Loved seeing the polar bears
  • First time at the splash pad
  • First time having a picnic in the backyard
  • First time giving “kisses” to mommy, daddy and brother
  • First time eating peas
  • First time playing on slip and slide

trio of little boy "first" photos

Everyone says that the days go by slow but the years go by fast with children. Ain’t that the truth? I know someday I will look back and think about the last time my kids played on the slip and slide, or went up north, but for now I’m focusing on these first moments.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of two.


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